Sometime last summer when my marathon training mileage was climbing and my morning runs were getting earlier, I decided it was time to part ways with my earbuds. Up until then I had been running with one earbud in and I enjoyed listening to music on my runs. That’s how I had been running for years and it was always my time to unwind. I made the decision to go music-free for safety reasons – being out that early alone was dangerous for multiple reasons and not being able to be fully aware of my surroundings was not the right choice. The first morning I ran the first half of the run without music and then popped in an earbud for the second half. The next morning I headed out and got lost in my thoughts and never put my music on.
Since then, I’ve gotten used to running without music. I’m not anti-music; I often use music when racing, but I feel I’ve benefited a lot from the change in training habit and I’ve encouraged some of my friends to try running without music. I had always enjoyed putting my music on, getting running, and just relaxing. When I started running music-free I realized that most of the time I wasn’t really listening to it in the first place.
Running music-free gave me the opportunity to focus more on the run itself. I like to relax and disassociate from a run at times, but my weekday runs are also “practice” and an opportunity for me to work on my breathing and form. Since last fall I have been focusing on correct breathing and this change has allowed me to focus more closely on this during my runs. Doing my speed work without music has given me the opportunity to focus on my running form and mentally push myself to hit my paces rather than use music as a crutch to get me through. At the end of a race, a certain song isn’t actually going to push a runner to keep going. It’s the training and the physical and mental strength within that runner that allows a strong finish. Overall I feel I get a lot more out of each run.
Running has always been a stress reliever for me, but now I feel more relaxed than ever after a run. Running music-free lets me clear my mind without distractions in a way I didn’t experience when I ran with music. This is the biggest benefit I’ve gained from changing this habit. Quiet mornings, proper breathing, and running easy helps me start my day relaxed and with a clear mind. I’m a lot more focused throughout the day and overall feel calmer. These are benefits I gained from running in general, but I’ve realized that over the past year that tuning into the world around me on my morning run has heightened these benefits.
I always encourage other runners to try running without music. Start small – try running the first or last mile or two of your run without music and move up from there. Another option could be designating one run a week to being without any ear buds. Not every run has to be music-free, but try it out once in a while and see what you discover when you tune into your run instead of your music/podcast/whatever. I never thought I’d be a runner that didn’t use some kind of music or entertainment when running and I’m often still surprised at how quickly my runs go by without it.
I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to use music on race day. The first half of the course is very energetic with a ridiculous amount of crowd support and entertainment. Last year I didn’t pop in my ear buds until I hit mile 20. Around mile 24 I ditched the earbuds again as I approached downtown and was back in with the crowds. Things calm down more in the second half and become fairly quiet on campus, but a few weeks ago I did a solo run that lasted for almost 4 hours without music and I felt fine. Likely I will bring my shuffle and just pop in my ear buds if needed like last year.
Have you tried running without music? If not, what’s holding you back?